A bilingual Bostonian of color. A special-education expert. An operations whiz who can ensure buses arrive on time and buildings are renovated.
In four recent Zoom sessions held by the search committee for a new Boston Public Schools superintendent, students and parents shared a wide range of characteristics they believe are crucial for the district’s next chief to possess. The committee is working quickly to replace Superintendent Brenda Cassellius before her planned June departure, which Mayor Michelle Wu has described as a “mutual decision.”
The superintendent search committee on Tuesday tapped that advice to craft a job description, approximately five pages long, that will be presented to the School Committee Wednesday. The search committee also decided to recommend One-Fourth Consulting LLC/JG Consulting, based in Austin, Texas, to assist with the search. The firm prevailed over six other bidders.
Whoever is chosen as the next superintendent will face a huge list of challenges and opportunities to move the system forward, according to the job description and public feedback.
“They’re looking for God, but he or she already has a job,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association. “The most important thing, in the case of Boston, is that the mayor feels this is indeed a person she can work with, who can do the job she wants to see done.”
Wu’s perspective will matter most, Domenech said, because although the School Committee will select the superintendent, members are mayoral appointees and would likely not oppose Wu’s favored candidate.
The stakes for the next superintendent — the third in eight years — are high, as the new leader will take charge amid growing concerns that the state could escalate its involvement, or even take control over the district, to address years of underperformance. The state is now reviewing Boston, two years after issuing a blistering audit that found widespread problems and said one-third of BPS students attend schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent in Massachusetts. Wu has urged state officials to collaborate with her, not take control of BPS.
Community members said the new superintendent’s challenges would be too much for any one person to tackle alone, so it’s critical to build a strong team.
“We won’t find someone who can be all things,” BPS teacher and mother Melanie Allen wrote in one listening session’s Zoom session’s chat. “A great chief of academics can take the lead on reading instruction. A great chief of operations can tackle transportation. We need someone who can pull together that team, and KEEP them.”
The community input overlapped with the priorities the search committee outlined. The committee called for a “politically astute” leader who has managed a diverse, large urban district, fostered a climate of transparency, and can provide innovative solutions to eliminate opportunity and achievement gaps among students of different backgrounds.
Here are 11 key characteristics families said they would like to see in a new superintendent.
1. A Bostonian
Parents and students said repeatedly that the next school chief should have experience with the Boston schools, as a student, parent, or teacher. They also want someone familiar with the challenges of a district in which 71 percent of students live in low-income households.
“It would be nice if they had gone to Boston Public Schools themselves, so they know the struggles we face,” said Izel Savinon, a Blackstone Elementary School student.
Parents said a local leader would be best positioned to navigate city politics.
“That way, they’ll be able to help students’ families,” mother Justina Petrus said in Spanish.
2. A Spanish speaker responsive to the needs of immigrant families
Families said they want a leader who will support multilingual students and build stronger relationships with parents who don’t speak English.
Nearly half of BPS students do not speak English as a first language, and one in three students is learning English, with Spanish speakers the largest group.
“I want for the new superintendent . . . to be Hispanic or Spanish-speaking,” said Jureidy Guerrero, a third-grader at the Hurley School.
The new superintendent should “treat multilingualism as an advantage and promote it” through expanded dual-language opportunities, Eugenia Corbo, a mother of two students at Umana School, said in Spanish.
3. A person of color committed to equity and antiracism
Many families urged the district to choose a superintendent of color dedicated to improving academic quality for Black and Latino students, who make up 29 percent and 43 percent of all students, respectively.
“I would appreciate a superintendent who is part of the demographic of the student population,” said Valentina Pedroza Munoz, a 2018 graduate.
The district has long struggled to narrow opportunity and achievement gaps for Black and Latino students, who are less likely to attend high-performing schools or take advanced classes than white and Asian students and have average lower graduation rates and standardized test scores.
Edith Bazile, a former BPS administrator, said the next superintendent should “tackle systemic racism and dismantle policies that are rooted in anti-Blackness” and drive educational disparities.
Kim Parker, president of the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts, said the next superintendent needs to prioritize better serving Black families, many of whom are leaving for charter, parochial, or suburban schools.
“What will the new super do to normalize high achievement for Black children and other children?” Parker asked.
4. Someone who will prioritize safety and security
Many parents and students said the next leader should prioritize student safety, citing concerns over COVID-19 and several high-profile violent incidents this year, including an attack by a student on the principal of the Henderson Inclusion School in November and the nonfatal shooting of a teacher and student outside TechBoston Academy in March.
“I want the next superintendent to be able to protect kids more,” TechBoston junior Angel Mondesir said.
5. A leader who will expand field trips, arts, music, sports, and extracurricular offerings
Students called for a superintendent who will ensure that all schools have field trips and art, music, sports, and extracurricular offerings, saying students at some schools do not have access. Only 52 schools out of 125 have a fully functioning library.
“It would be beneficial that the superintendent would add more activities for kids to do, like soccer and baseball,” said Azariah Harley Long, a sixth-grader at Orchard Gardens K-8 School.
6. Someone who will prioritize students’ mental health
Many families said they want a superintendent who will focus not just on academics but on students’ mental health.
“What is the plan to provide better social-emotional support for students going through difficult times, for example being homeless, going through domestic violence, etc.?” asked Keisha Marie Nuñez Medina, a Hurley student.
7. Someone with special-education expertise
Families called for a leader committed to supporting the 22 percent of BPS students with disabilities.
“We want more career opportunities for teenagers in special-education programs,” said Joshua Butler, a 10th-grader at the Community Academy of Science and Health.
8. A leader dedicated to communication, honesty, and keeping promises
Families said the next leader should build trust by communicating openly and often, and follow through on the system’s reform efforts.
“The next superintendent should keep the promises that were made,” said Blackstone student Jazmyn Cuello Soto, such as adding more grades at Shaw Elementary School and repairing the Blackstone’s walls and doors.
Corbo, the Umana mother, said she wants a responsive leader. “Often, as parents, we write to the authorities of Boston Public Schools and we don’t receive a response.”
9. An ‘operational superstar’
Parents also want an “operational superstar” who can improve the district’s long-troubled busing system and poorly maintained buildings.
“The yearly issues with buses and assignments are unacceptable,” said Yoree Losardo, a mother of two children who attend Kenny Elementary School.
10. Someone who will support students at risk of dropping out
Teachers and administrators with Boston’s alternative schools advocated for a leader who will increase funding for programs for students who have previously dropped out or are at risk of doing so.
“As the world changes rapidly, so too must we rapidly make room for students who learn better in different models,” said Jill Kantrowitz, director of advancement at Boston Day and Evening Academy.
11. Don’t forget the chocolate milk!
Students called for the new chief to offer tastier, healthier lunch options, but also echoed one student’s plea for universal access to a cafeteria classic.
“At my old school, we had chocolate milk, which was good,” said Myla Nixon-Silberg, a third-grader at the Mendell School. “At my new school, we don’t have chocolate milk.”
James Vaznis of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
The Great Divide is an investigative team that explores educational inequality in Boston and statewide. Sign up to receive our newsletter, and send ideas and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.